KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #62
March 2023
One topic that we constantly hear is on the minds of a lot of youth is dating and relationships. We get it! It's on our minds too :). February got us in the mood to talk about this topic, so our March newsletter is all about dating and relationships! Not only that, but we wanted to put an extra focus on the first step to dating, which is making a good impression on people. Let's face it, you have to make a good impression in order to attract others. So, enjoy this newsletter that is chock full of examples, tips, and other helpful information to get you on the path to dating and relationship success! Good luck and tell us how it goes!
A couple sitting outside on a blanket with a sunset and hot air balloons in the background
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


Our office has been busy these days with hosting our Empower Me! Workshops and recruiting for the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum. There is never a dull day in the world of KYEA! Keep reading for full details about the things mentioned above. If you'd like to help in any way, reach out to us!
Empower Me! Workshops Going Strong Virtually and In Person

Our Empower Me! Workshops continue, and January was all virtual! These workshops are completely focused on employment and are a collaboration between KYEA and Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). While we are doing in-person workshops again, we are also throwing in a few that are virtual in order to reach youth all across the state. So, January saw us logging back on to Zoom and March had us back on the road!

Check out the overview of our last three workshops:

Log on #27… Virtual! We had a Zoom workshop on January 18 and this workshop was catered specifically toward youth who are 14 or 15 years old. There were 7 youth who attended from all over Kansas. This was a great group that is a bit newer to the topic of employment, but who were ready to get their employment journey started!
Screen shot photo of the participants of the virtual Empower Me! Workshop held in January. The youth are on their own Zoom screens.
Log on #28… Virtual! Our second Zoom workshop of the month was held on January 25. This workshop was attended by 8 youth who also came from a variety of areas. This group was a lot of fun and showed great enthusiasm for getting jobs someday!
Screen shot photo of the participants of our second virtual Empower Me! Workshop held in January. The youth are on their own Zoom screens.
Stop #29... Bonner Springs! Rescheduled from a previous date in February, we headed to Bonner Springs last week. Twelve youth attended this workshop and came from neighboring cities like Shawnee, Leavenworth, and Basehor.
Participants of the Bonner Springs Empower Me! Workshop gather with KYEA staff for a group photo.
Next up- we are logging on AND back on the road for the next two months! First, we will be doing a virtual workshop for youth in western Kansas in March. Then, we are headed to Chanute and the Wichita area for April. Busy times for KYEA!

If you are a youth Pre-ETS consumer, and you would like to attend a future Empower Me! Workshop, just reach out to your Pre-ETS Specialist and they will get you signed up!
A group of volunteers all wearing purple tshirts take a silly photo at the KSYLF
Volunteers Needed for the KSYLF!

The 2023 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum is going to be here before we know it! So, we need quality, enthusiastic volunteers to help out for the week! Do you like working with high school students with disabilities? Do you have the skills and passion to facilitate groups and motivate young adults with disabilities? Then we need you!

We seek committed, enthusiastic people who are willing to devote a week to this great program. Yes, we realize that a week is a big commitment, but you will not regret it, we promise! Just ask any of our past volunteers who have been changed by this program.

The 2023 KSYLF will be held on July 17-22 at Washburn University in Topeka. Volunteers can be KSYLF alumni, past volunteers, or anyone in our state who is over age 18. Our volunteer application deadline has been extended to MAY 6, 2023. Apply to serve as a volunteer today!

Save the Date for the 2023 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum
A KSYLF volunteer hugging one of the delegates
A diverse group of volunteers gather for a photo with delegates
Autumn and Davis dancing

Spotlight On: Youth with Disabilities Thriving in a Relationship

Autumn Bertels and Davis Green (Wichita/Lawrence)

Are you a youth with a disability that thinks that you will never find a partner who is right for you? Read the interview with Autumn and Davis below, and you might just have a little bit more hope! Autumn and Davis has pushed through being long distance, both having different disabilities, and learning to communicate through conflict, in order to be the strong couple that they are today... and this all happened in a little over a year. Read this great interview below to learn how they are successful and what their advice is for other young people with disabilities.

What are both of your names and how old are each of you? What town do each of you live in?

DAVIS: 19 and live in Wichita
AUTUMN: 21 and live in Lawrence

How long have you two been a couple?

BOTH: A little over 1 year

What did you like about the other person? What attracted you to them?

DAVIS: She was very pretty and sweet. I also admired her passion for Jesus, Advocacy, and Science.
AUTUMN: I really liked how friendly and caring he was, which is why I originally started talking to him. After we first hung out one on one, I got to know more about his faith and we had some deep religious conversations and that attracted me a lot to him.

What do you like best about having a partner or being in a relationship?

DAVIS: I always have Autumn to talk to and relate to. She’s the pal I can always talk to and be with when the world shuts me out. Even though everything around me changes, she is constant in my life. She’s always here to help me and be my bestest friend even when we have ups and downs. She always can cheer me up.
AUTUMN: I like having someone I can talk to that knows me for who I am in the present. I also like being able to rely on one another to keep each other accountable in our faith, academics, and responsibilities.
Gabe and Ally smiling and taking a picture
It's Worth the Wait...
Lawrence Youth Learns That Relationships Happen in Time
by Gabe Mullen, KSYLF Alumni '16 and Faces Alumni '18

My name is Gabe Mullen, and I’m a 25-year-old with autism and a Kansas Youth Leadership Forum (KSYLF) alumnus.

For the past several months, I’ve been dating another person with autism named Ally (who is also a KSYLF alum).

As a person with autism, dating hasn’t always been easy. Most of my prior dating experience dates back to my high school years, where a few short, failed relationships with people who didn’t truly value me, taught me valuable lessons.

One lesson I’ve learned is that no matter how long you have to wait to be with a person who truly seeks to understand you, that person is always worth the wait. Sometimes it’s okay to sit out dating until you have a clear sense of who you are. This is especially true for people with disabilities like myself. I spent most of my high school and college years single, but Ally was always worth the wait.

Another lesson is that it’s not just the person, but the timing, that matters. As we grow in life, we all change. The truth is that, looking back, I wasn’t ready to date in high school. And even though Ally and I have been dating each other for a few months, we’ve known each other almost four years. But both of us agree that we weren’t ready to date each other when we first met, and it took some time to be ready.

Finally, it’s always best to go with the flow. Sometimes you have to wait years to find the right person at the right time. This almost never happens the way you imagine or plan things. It certainly didn’t for me or for Ally. If you’re willing to explore and let things be, a happy, healthy relationship can be in the cards for you.
Someone outside writing in their journal
What to Do in the Waiting
Tips for Preparing Yourself For Dating and Relationships
by Johnna Godinez, KYEA Program Assistant

I’m going to be honest with you, I have never dated. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but I know I was not ready for the serious, healthy, committed Christian relationship that I have always wanted. In other words, I needed to do some growing-up and some work in therapy to be able to attract the man I want to marry. Here’s some advice on how to wait for the best person for you and positive things that you can do WHILE you’re waiting:

1.   No pressure! Do not pressure yourself to date if you think you’re not ready. It’s okay to wait.

2. It’s good to be picky – create three lists to help you clarify the characteristics that you want in a romantic partner. The lists are “must have,” “preferred characteristics,” and “deal-breakers.”

3. Take time to make yourself ready to date – Take the lists from #2 and work to become the person you want to attract by developing some or all of the items on your must-haves list. Like traits seem to attract one another.

4. “Friend zone” – Start with friendships, since research says that the best romantic relationships that last start as friends. We all have to start somewhere.

5. Wait for the best – Observe and have conversations with those whom you are attracted to. Take note if they do not do what they say they will do. The best people to date keep their promises. 

6. Remember – you are worth waiting for!
Tips on Dating, Relationships, and Making an Impression From Adults Who Have Been There
It's always a good thing to learn from people who have more experience than you and have "been there and done that." This is especially true when it comes to dating and relationships. So, we went to the "experts" (aka- adults with disabilities) to get their advice on some different topics. Read below as they offer their tips on dating, relationships, and making a good first impression. Can you pick out a theme in this advice? We sure did!
Kelsey Goddard
Kelsey Goddard

What is your best piece of advice for a youth who is experiencing dating or wants to experience dating?

Be open-minded! Even if you don’t have a lot in common with someone, be open to learning about new things. For example, if someone really likes comic books, but you don’t know a lot about comic books, be open to learning about the comic books that they like and finding new ones you both like together.

Don’t be shallow – appearances don’t matter! Every person and everybody deserves respect – it’s a person’s personality and character that truly matters!

What is your best piece of advice for being successful in a romantic relationship?

Be open to compromise! Part of being in a relationship is about respecting the other person and balancing doing what you want with what your partner wants. For example, if you watched your favorite show with your partner last night, be open to watching their favorite show the next night. Or if your partner really doesn’t like a certain restaurant, don’t ask them to go there with you a lot (you can find friends who like to go there with you instead!).

In your opinion, how can someone make a good impression on a POTENTIAL dating or relationship partner?

Be yourself! Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not just to impress someone. If someone doesn’t like or appreciate the real you, it’s better that you find that out sooner than later anyways!
Tacita smiling
Tacita Slay

What is your best piece of advice for a youth who is experiencing dating or wants to experience dating?

It's important to remember not to rush into a relationship. Build a friendship first and foremost. You don't have to accept things that you're not okay with.

What is your best piece of advice for being successful in a romantic relationship?

Have regular communication. It's important to express how you're feeling to your partner. Spend time with each other. Have regular dates. Maybe take an interest in something they're interested in.

In your opinion, how can someone make a good impression on a POTENTIAL dating or relationship partner?

Confidence. Embrace and accept who you are as a person. If you have to be someone other than yourself to impress them, that person isn't the one for you and someone better will come along.
Phillip standing next to a woman
Phillip McGruder

What is your best piece of advice for a youth who is experiencing dating or wants to experience dating?

It starts with self-love. Looking yourself in the mirror and loving you for yourself rather you are a person with a disability. Just accept that things aren’t going to be perfect. Start off as friends first, don’t rush the process. Also, make sure you’re in a relationship with someone that loves you for you and not what they can benefit from the relationship.

What is your best piece of advice for being successful in a romantic relationship?

For a successful romantic relationship, communication is always key. That’s where wisdom and understanding sets in and, during that time, you get to learn about your significant other. Every relationship is not like a Disney film that we loved growing up, but you can make the romantic parts that we’re used to seeing in the films into your reality if the two of you work at it. The simple things are giving a woman you like flowers, but, in my opinion, I think, if you ask her, for example, what she likes like Reeses candy or a certain movie, and, if you give her that, she would find it romantic because, in her eyes, it’s the thought that counts. It shows that he’s willing to do anything to show how much he cares for her.

In your opinion, how can someone make a good impression on a POTENTIAL dating or relationship partner?

In the words of Genie from Aladdin, just be yourself. Bring positivity into the interaction and just let go of the fear of rejection. If it doesn’t happen, don’t blame yourself… It means it was never meant to be and something better is out there for you.
Rick with his significant other
Rick Macias

What is your best piece of advice for a youth who is experiencing dating or wants to experience dating?

The best piece of advice I can give youth who is wanting to experience dating- Be polite, kind, and, if they have questions about your disability, answer them honestly.

What is your best piece of advice for being successful in a romantic relationship?

The piece of advice I can give somebody in a romantic relationship to be successful is- Do as much as you can for yourself and always take your partner into consideration and show them love and appreciation.
Austin smiling with his fiance and a Chiefs sign in the background
Austin Hanson

What is your best piece of advice for a youth who is experiencing dating or wants to experience dating?

Take your time getting to know the other person better before making big decisions. It’s okay to end a relationship if it’s not good for you.

What is your best piece of advice for being successful in a romantic relationship?

Be yourself and communicate your expectations and needs and be open to hearing the other person’s.

In your opinion, how can someone make a good impression on a POTENTIAL dating or relationship partner?

Focus on asking questions and getting to know the other person and make an effort to remember important things about them and their favorite things.
7 Myths About People With Disabilities and Dating
by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni '16 and KYEA Board President

People with disabilities date and are in relationships... period. You will find many examples of this in communities. But, oftentimes, this is something that others do not think is true. There are many myths (or things that are not true) out there about people with disabilities in the dating world. Check out 7 of them below...

1. Dating someone with a disability is awkward.
People may believe that dating someone with a disability is awkward. However, dating can be awkward for anyone, regardless of if they have a disability or not.

2. People with disabilities do not desire intimacy.
One stereotype about people with disabilities is that they cannot engage in, nor desire intimacy. When it comes to intimacy and desire, the two most important components are education and consent.

3. People with disabilities only date other people with disabilities.
Some people believe that people with disabilities can only date other people with disabilities. This idea is false. Humans date and fall in love for a variety of reasons.

4. People with disabilities will get offended.
People may worry that if they date a person with a disability, they may offend them. An important part of having a disability is educating others about your disability and communicating your needs. Sure, everyone should follow basic etiquette, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5. If you date a person with a disability, you have other motives.
This one is all about wrong perceptions. Why would that able-bodied man have a relationship with the woman in the wheelchair? Some may believe that he is doing it for the “benefits” of having a disability, such as accessible parking at the front of the store, or that he is using her for her disability benefits.

6. There aren’t any disability dating sites.
Online dating is a primary method of meeting new people in the 21st century. There are a few apps and websites that people with disabilities can use if they are looking to explore the dating scene.

7. People with disabilities can’t have children.
Anyone can become parents, including people with disabilities. Although parenting can be hard for everyone, with the right supports and equipment, people with disabilities can certainly start a family.
A female in a wheelchair sitting up to a table and looking at her cell phone
Wanna Try Online Dating, but Need Some Tips?

If you're someone that doesn't fit in the bar scene, or maybe doesn't like social events, and just doesn't meet new people very often, then online dating might be for you! Many people have gone this avenue and have been successful. But, how do you handle the online profile when you have a disability? This article explains just that and gives lots of helpful tips. Read on...

"Online Dating When You Have a Disability: The Do's and Don'ts to Finding Love Digitally"

by Erin Hawley
*obtained from Easter Seals website

Online dating is complicated. You have to spend a lot of energy filling out your profile, uploading pics, and suffering through awkward phone conversations and first dates. In the end, when you’ve found someone that makes you happy, it’s all worth it – but when you’re in the midst of it, it can be overwhelming.

Many individuals are hesitant to start the journey of online dating, and it can be scarier when you are a person with a disability. The tips below are not the only way to find love; sometimes things just fall into place in unexpected ways. But I hope they encourage you to make the leap into online dating, and guide you to have a successful experience.

Getting Started & Choosing a Site

- Before you delve into dating sites, know what you are looking for in a partner and in a relationship. If you go in understanding your needs, you will have an easier time setting up a profile and finding that special someone.
- The next step is to figure out which dating site to go with. I’d suggest OKCupid, a free and popular alternative to paid sites like There is also, a site geared toward finding love within the disability community; the website lets you make a profile, and gives out free credits every month to answer one message. The paid option gives you full access to profiles and their messaging system. OKCupid has a large disability community as well.
- You can always join multiple sites at a time – in fact, I recommend this. You never know what will happen, and it’s best to have as many options available to you as possible.
Question of the Month
What attracts you to another person for a potential romantic relationship?
"What attracts me to a guy in a relationship is how he respects me and communicates well with me. Also I look for the heart in someone that has intentions of getting to know me more and likes the same interests like I do. Also if he has a heart for the Lord like I do."
- Aubrey Peirce, KSYLF Alumna '21

"What attracts me to a girl is how well they respect me and they can show how they can trust me with time and patience and if they are faithful to God and willing to take it one day at a time."
- Kyle Christine, KSYLF Alumni '11

"Well looks first (shouldn’t be but…), but a sense of humor is definitely another. I’m also starting to look for guys who can take care of me and not the other way around like in pretty much all of my past relationships."
- MacKenzie Winder, KSYLF Alumna '10
People with and without disabilities are in a restaurant socializing and taking a selfie
A guy approaching a girl in a restaurant and handing her a flower
First Impressions Are Everything!
A Personal Checklist for Success...
by Kirstianna Guerrero, KSYLF Alumna '18 and Faces Alumna '20

If it only takes 7 seconds to make a first impression, you don’t have a lot of time in the moment! So, is there anything you can do to prepare? Here are 7 questions that you can ask yourself to see if you’re ready to make the best first impression:

  • Are you physically presenting yourself in the best way?

  • Will your attitude and body language show that you are interested?

  • Are you ready to greet people?

  • Are you ready to participate in conversation?

  • Will you be on time?

  • Are you being yourself?

  • Are you willing to make mistakes?
To Get a Visual: Steps to a Good Impression
Are you a visual learner? We've given you some steps to making a good impression above, but maybe it will help to see it being done. Check out the videos below and soak in all of the great advice that will get you one step closer to nailing that first impression!
7 Greatest Conversation Starters That Actually Work
What to Wear on a First Date
21 Date Outfit Ideas (casual, fancy, first date, and more)
How to Be More Confident
How to Make a Great First Impression
How to Flirt with a Woman (Without Looking Creepy or Desperate)
*can be applied to all genders

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

ABLE Accounts
by Kirstianna Guerrero, KSYLF Alumna '18 and Faces Alumna '20

Look out Kansans with Disabilities, are you ready to hear about something you will now be ABLE to do? Save! Don’t save your excitement, save your money!

ABLE is an acronym that stands for “Achieving a Better Life Experience” and this program helps you do just that by giving you the space to save the money you need to reach your goals, without losing your SSI or SSDI Benefits. Individuals with disabilities have only been able to have $2,000 in assets at any given time in order to remain eligible for many federal means-tested benefits programs, such as SSI or SSDI. Using an ABLE Account, you could now save up to $100,000 or more depending on the benefits you receive.
Two ladies looking at each other and talking with one of them being a wheelchair user
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
A group of students within the Lawrence school district are now hosting their own podcast, led and scripted by actual students with disabilities! This podcast is titled "Transition Talks: Talking Our Way to Our First Job." We think this is so cool, and we want to congratulate the students and teacher who worked on this project! Listen to the podcast

Would you like to celebrate strong, empowered females with disabilities in our state? Attend the Ms. Wheelchair Kansas and Little Miss Crowning Ceremony this upcoming weekend! The ceremony will be on Sunday, March 19 at the Doubletree Hotel in Lawrence. It is free and open to the public. You won't want to miss this great ceremony where the new titleholders will be crowned, and you will leave feeling empowered! If you know of girls ages 5-12 who are wheelchair users, they should also attend the Little Miss Meet-and-Greet on Sunday from 12:45-1:20 pm at the Doubletree. Learn more

There are a bunch of really great conferences coming up in our state in the coming months. Check out these great opportunities and consider attending:

Autism Across the Life Span
March 24 - Overland Park
Brings together parents, people with autism, pracitioners, educators and researchers to learn up to date information on Autism and creating an inclusive and accepting community.

SHIFT Transition to Adulthood
April 1, 2023 - Topeka
Kansas parents and youth with disabilities, age 14-21, are invited to join Families Together, Inc. for this free training to discover the road to a good life.

South Central Kansas Employment First Summit
April 6, 2023 - Wichita
Attend this FREE event that will feature a Reverse Job Fair and Vendors, as well as Break Out Sessions on Leadership, Employment, Education, Quality Assurance, and Self-Advocacy... and a closing keynote from Dan Meers (aka KC Wolf).

Family Employment Awareness Training (FEAT)
April 29 and May 5, 2023 - Wichita
Employment is possible for young adults who have disabilities! Attend this FREE two-day training from Families Together, Inc. for families, youth, young adults and others to find out how!

SACK 2023 Statewide Self-Advocacy Conference
June 30-July 2, 2023 - Wichita
The dates have been set for the 2023 SACK Conference! Mark them on your calendars!

The KU Medical Center is recruiting for a free cooking and exercise program for young adults (18-30 years) with IDD. Chef Boy ID is a 12 week in person healthy lifestyle intervention that includes functional fitness training and hands on cooking and nutrition education. Activities are held in Lawrence. Participants receive an iPad to use during the study and a Fitbit to keep. For more information, contact Jessie Danon at

Have you ever wanted to attend space camp? The Kansas State School for the Blind is offering 4 scholarships for Space Camp in Huntsville, AL for interested Kansas high school students who are blind or visually impaired. Preference will be given to upperclassmen. This is a great opportunity for students to meet peers from all over the world that have a visual impairment. This space camp will occur September 30-October 6, 2023. Tuition and travel are included in the scholarship. Applications are due by March 22. View the application and learn more

Are you a person with an intellectual disability? Do you have thoughts or suggestions about the IDD waiver? KCDD wants to hear from you! They have created a survey to gain lived experience from people with disabilities and their families. The ideas provided will be used to help KCDD inform changes to the current IDD Waiver. Take the survey

The Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas (SACK) is hiring for a part-time Self-Advocate Trainer! This position is designated specifically for a person with an intellectual or developmental disability. Duties include conducting trainings, writing materials, assisting with the SACK Convention, recruiting for SACK, social media, and more. For more information, contact Jaclyn at 785-749-5588 or

As Kansas students continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Laura Kelly announced the creation of the Kansas Education Enrichment Program (KEEP), which will provide qualifying parents and guardians with a one-time $1,000 award per child to pay for educational goods and services such as tutoring and school supplies. Learn more

Opportunities on a National Level

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is launching a fall internship program! These internships will be completely virtual. The AAPD Fall Internship Program is a professional and career development opportunity for disabled students and recent graduates. Interns explore career opportunities, gain leadership skills, and connect to the broader disability community. Learn more

Computers for the Blind (CFTB) is announcing a limited time discount on their standard laptops for people who have visual disabilities. Individuals can receive discounts up to $150 off while supplies last. CFTB is a non-profit dedicated to bridging the digital divide for the community of the blind and visually impaired. They provide affordable, accessible refurbished computers and training. Computers are delivered right to the doorstep with JAWS or ZoomText ready to go. For more information, contact 214-340-6328 or

Do you know someone who is doing big things in their community to prevent bullying? Nominate them for a PACER Center Unity Award! The annual Unity Awards recognize those who are preventing bullying behavior by helping to create a kinder, more accepting, and more inclusive world. Examples of bullying prevention efforts might include: empowering others to take positive action, advocating for those who need support, or sharing acts of kindness that cause a ripple effect in one's community. Nominations are due by April 1. Learn more

The PACER Center is also inviting K-12 students to produce scripted videos on bullying for the opportunity to be featured on NBPC websites to be viewed by classrooms around the country. The cool part? You could win some amazing prizes! Learn more

Webinar- Youth Town Hall: Centering the Voices of Youth with Disabilities
Get ready for a thought-provoking youth town hall that will shed light on the challenges facing young people with disabilities in school. Join the Institute for Educational Leadership on Thursday, March 30 at 5:00 pm CT as a panel of insightful speakers share their experiences and provide practical advice on how adults can shift their practices to better support students with disabilities. Register now

The U.S. General Services Administration and Challenge.Gov have launched Access for All, a student design competition for barrier-free spaces in federal buildings. GSA invites students in architecture and design programs to apply universal design ideas to reimagine a federal workspace that provides an accessible, barrier-free, and all-inclusive experience. Applications for the competition are due by May 1. Learn more
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